No expectation from China on Aussie election; whoever wins will stay in ‘shadow of US’
Published: May 20, 2022 10:03 PM
People line up outside a pre-polling center as they vote early in Melbourne, Australia, on May 20, 2022, ahead of the May 21 general election. Photo: AFP

People line up outside a pre-polling center as they vote early in Melbourne, Australia, on May 20, 2022, ahead of the May 21 general election. Photo: AFP

As Australians prepare to go to the polls on Saturday with many expecting the new government to reduce the cost of living, strengthen the economy and tackle climate change, it appears that the first thing for the next prime minister, no matter who wins, is to travel to Japan for a US-led Quad meeting, a mechanism widely recognized as a tool to contain China and maintain American hegemony. 

Analysts said Australia has insanely put the importance of the US above its interests to help the US maintain its global hegemony, and they warned that Australia's role of being the US' anti-China spearhead will not change any time soon as the new Canberra government may even turn the South Pacific   into a new battleground for strategic rivalry with China.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison from the ruling conservative coalition is defending his position against the closest opposition, Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese. 

While the two were making a final push on Friday, more than 6.5 million early votes or mail-in ballots were already cast out of 17 million eligible voters, Reuters reported.

Many Australian voters described the top concern for the election as rising prices, as the cost of living soared to a 21-year high. 

A BBC Sydney reporter wrote in his story published on Friday that in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, almost everyone was worried about the rising cost of rent, food, fuel, and other essentials.

Australia reported its highest annual inflation rate in more than 20 years on the back of rising fuel prices. The consumer price index   rose 5.1 percent for 12 months ending March 2022, marking the biggest annual CPI reading since 2001.

According to ABC News, nearly one in 10 Canberrans are living below the poverty line, challenging the perception of a "well-off" and "rich" national capital.

According to a recent Australian National University poll, reducing the cost of living and fixing the senior care system are voters' two top priorities for the election, and more than half of voters also cited strengthening the nation's economy, reducing the cost of healthcare and dealing with global climate change as priorities for the government. 

However, it seems that none of these were in the focus of the new government, as according to the White House, the new Australian leader will be in Japan three days after the election to meet its allies. 

Albanese said Wednesday that the first thing he will be doing is meeting allies, if he wins. "Meeting with President Biden, meeting with Prime Minister Kishida, meeting with Narendra Modi next week - that is my priority," he said.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that if Labor wins, Albanese would need to be sworn into office by Monday in order to travel to Tokyo for Tuesday's Quad meeting, and the timing was challenging.

In explaining the new government's priority, Yu Lei, chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries of Liaocheng University, told the Global Times on Friday that without the recognition and support of the US, it is difficult for any political party leader to become prime minister of Australia, and even if he becomes prime minister, he cannot secure his position. 

"Whoever is elected as the next prime minister will be subject to the will of the US," Yu said.

Chen Hong, president of the Chinese Association of Australian Studies and director of the Australian Studies Center at the East China Normal University, told the Global Times that Australia has insanely placed US interests above its own, acting as a frantic anti-China spearhead, and it is willing to sacrifice its economic interests, Australia's long-term interests, and even the peace of the entire South Pacific, for the sake of US global hegemony. 

Australia has lost maturity and independence in diplomacy and has completely attached its policy to the American global strategy, Chen said. 

Analysts said China-Australia relations, which are highly connected to the US-Australia alliance, will be in a dismal state no matter who wins, and the increasingly tight US-Australia alliance following AUKUS could send China-Australia relations after the election spiraling downward. 

Chen said the future Australian government will hype the "China threat" in South Pacific and may even make trouble to pressure China and turn the region into a battleground for its rivalry against China.

The expert also warned of the possibility that the new Australian government is likely to turn its defense-oriented national defense policy more aggressively. 

Australia US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Australia US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

'Poisoned' election  

Chinese analysts said Australia's election has greatly deviated and been poisoned in the past six weeks after the China topic has, for the first time in decades, dominated the campaign, and Australian politicians' malicious motives of trying to divert domestic conflicts and attacking opponents by smearing China were fully exposed.

Even on the eve of the election, Australian politicians still tried to exploit the China issue. The Australian on Friday reported  Foreign Minister Marise Payne had proposed in November doubling Australian aid to the Pacific countries to 2.88 billion Australian dollars ($2 billion) a year to counter China's rising influence, but he was refused by the national security committee.

After China and the Solomon Islands signed a security deal, Morrison and his opponent have frequently hyped the "China military threat."  

Morrison said if China built a base in the Solomon Islands, it would be a "red line" for Australia, and Labor slammed the government, saying the signing of the China-Solomon Islands deal was Australia's "worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since WWII."

But Labor will not make any changes toward its China policy, as Albanese said there would be no change in Australia's China policy if he wins.

Reuters quoted University of Sydney professor Simon Jackman as saying that a "perceived threat from another country" has not been an election focus for Australia since the Cold War.

Analysts said anti-China cards do not help either side in the Australian election, and would only result in instability  with the resurgence of hate crimes. 

A survey by the Lowy Institute released in April showed that almost 20 percent of Chinese Australian respondents said they had been physically threatened or attacked because of their heritage while one in four had been called offensive names.

Both ruling and opposition parties are highly consistent in making malicious remarks on China during the campaign, which shows Canberra has become a shadow of Washington, Chen said.  

Australia does not formulate a foreign policy independent of the US, and because of the immaturity of the LNP and its lack of vision, Canberra has failed to balance its relationship between the US and China, former Australian diplomatic and political commentator Bruce Haigh told the Global Times recently. Haigh said China-Australia relations derailed in recent years as US attitudes hardened toward China, and the US has attempted to recruit many countries to contain China with Australia being a successful recruit. 

"They played on 'alliance' loyalty, Australian fear of the US not honoring, mostly unspoken, guarantees of Australian security, Australian racism and fear of the large Asian populations to its north, particularly China. This fear is a white colonial hangover dating back to the 1880s. As US attitudes hardened, so did China's with all sides becoming less tolerant. This has not enabled easy diplomacy," he said. 

Although Australia's tough China policy will unlikely be changed soon, the private sector has been expecting a resumption of exchanges. 

Yu said that many Australian universities and businessmen expect to resume some exchanges with China, such as tourism, overseas studies and more exports, after the new government formed.